Colombian Paramilitary Leader Quits
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
BOGOTA, Colombia, May 31 -- Carlos Castano has submitted his resignation
as head of Colombia's main rightist paramilitary army, the United Self-Defense
Forces of Colombia.
The move, which his lieutenants said arose from a dispute over the paramilitary
force's direction and conduct, could add a new twist to Colombia's long-running
war. But it was unclear whether the resignation was a genuine stepping down from the leadership post or just an impatient gesture.
After a meeting with the paramilitary army's ruling committee Wednesday
night, Castano dashed off an angry few sentences "irrevocably resigning"
his role as
commander in chief of the 8,000-member organization, known as the AUC. The note appeared overnight on the group's Web site, setting off a day of speculation
about whether Castano was departing Colombia's civil war, in which he is a leading figure, or whether the site was the victim of computer hackers.
"We of the AUC [are] friends and respectful of the state institutions," Castano wrote. "This principle is inviolable. Respect it."
A source close to the paramilitary army, who spoke with Castano today,
said the volatile commander wrote the letter after a meeting in the northern
state of Cordoba
during which he scolded top commanders for lack of discipline and "killing without reason." The AUC was responsible for massacres last year that killed more than
570 civilians, according to the Colombian military.
The ruling committee will meet to take up the resignation letter and
decide whether Castano should remain as leader after four years in the
job. The source said
Castano, after cooling off, would likely remain in the job despite what appears to be a split over tactics.
He and his late brother, Fidel, helped unify the disparate paramilitary
groups created to combat Colombia's leftist guerrilla armies, and he has
become the public face
of an army that has been enjoying rising popularity among the country's frustrated middle class.